DENVER | First-time candidate Joe O’Dea is testing whether a Republican can win a U.S. Senate race in blue-trending Colorado by supporting some abortion rights and feuding with former President Donald Trump.
It’s a bet that highlights the difficult position the GOP finds itself in these midterms in Colorado, a former competitive state that has swung sharply left since 2016. Only two Republicans have won two statewide races since 2004 — Cory Gardner’s 2014 victory for a U.S. Senate seat that he lost six years later, and Heidi Ganahl winning a spot on the University of Colorado Board of Regents before launching her underdog challenge to Democratic Gov. Jared Polis this year.
O’Dea is running against Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who won reelection twice before with his outspoken defense of abortion rights. Bennet is hoping to claim a third victory, hammering O’Dea for not supporting abortion rights enough. The Republican businessman has said he backed the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that conservatives on the court overturned this summer. But he also says he supports the same justices who overturned Roe and supports a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.
O’Dea voted for Trump twice but has said he’d prefer someone else as his party’s 2024 nominee, citing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and others. That led Trump to slam O’Dea on the former president’s social network, Truth Social. “MAGA doesn’t Vote for stupid people with big mouths,” Trump wrote after O’Dea called for a different nominee on CNN.
Some Republicans hope the feud with Trump helps O’Dea lure back onetime conservative voters who were disgusted by the former president — not a trivial number in Colorado, which Trump lost by 13 percentage points in 2020. But Republicans are a shrinking share of the Colorado electorate and O’Dea already has had challenges uniting them behind his candidacy. His primary rival, state Rep. Ron Hanks, has called for conservatives to vote for Libertarian Brian Peotter, calling him “the only conservative on the ballot.”
Still, Republicans think O’Dea has a shot, albeit a long one. The son of a police officer, he’s insisted that voters don’t care about social issues right now and that inflation and crime are the real concerns. He promises he’ll be a GOP version of Sen. Joe Manchin, the conservative West Virginia Democrat who frequently bucks his own party in Washington.
Bennet, in contrast, has slammed the GOP for working to undermine democracy and women’s rights. He rarely mentions O’Dea’s name on the trail but rallies voters against him by implication. He’s also been helped by having a significant financial edge over the Republican novice. Bennet raised about $20 million as of the end of last month, while O’Dea only had $6.5 million.
Both candidates have gotten some help from outside groups, but Washington Republicans have spent sparingly to back O’Dea — a sign to most political insiders that they feel the seat may be just out of reach for the GOP.
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